ORAN and CBRS were the main themes at Mobile World Congress Americas, held in Los Angeles. I have to say, though, that unlicensed was the third most important theme, though it will emerge to the main stage in future years.
ORAN encompasses several topics woven together. ORAN is a set of common interfaces that describe how various devices in mobile RAN work together. ORAN may also represent a new way of building radio networks. Recently, new vendors are being invited to bid on major mobile network projects, including Mavenir, Altiostar, Parallel and others. And, the major market share players in mobile RAN, which include Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, Samsung, and ZTE are being asked by operators to support ORAN. The incumbent vendors are responding in various ways: Samsung, a challenger in the market, has whole-heartedly embraced ORAN, while Huawei has only recently acknowledged the existence of ORAN. Ericsson and Nokia have embraced ORAN with the view to embrace and extend - in the sense that Microsoft used this term in the 1990s. Based on presentations made by Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung, we expect that the incumbents, Ericsson and Nokia,will embrace ORAN but will establish a path to continue serving customers with the same vertically integrated business models of today. We are eager to see the results of mobile network operator bidding to observe how many startups win projects for wide scale deployment.
CBRS. Today, CBRS is available in the US market and has been so for about a month. We had an interesting opportunity to moderate three panels on the stage at MWCa and found some very interesting indoor/campus uses for CBRS, including WiFi backhaul, secure/critical communications, surveillance, IoT/sensor monitoring. Since CBRS indoor spectrum generally allows for more output power than for WiFi, the range is better. We see this as a key advantage for CBRS users, though enterprises who take advantage of the so-called OnGo service must pay various monthly fees such as those for the SAS and potentially other ongoing services. We expect that CBRS will be successful in certain verticals.
Unlicensed. We believe the existence of CBRS could uncork the value of unlicensed spectrum at 900 MHz, 5 GHz, 2.4 GHz, and 6 GHz. We are conducting significant research into each of these and other spectrums.
We attended the operator and vendor consortium of 5G Americas. The themes of the show were: 5G, spectrum, cell siting, Asia-Pacific operator progress. For the second time in the past couple weeks, we saw FCC Commissioner Michael O'Reilly present, and his key messages were similar both times, focusing on CBRS, C-Band and 6 GHz. In attendance from the North American service provider side were AT&T, T-Mobile US, Shaw, and Sprint (we focused on NA operators mainly in this write-up). Notable vendors included Cisco, Commscope, Ericsson, Intel, Kathrein, Mavenir, Nokia, Qualcomm, and Samsung. We would say the most important theme from the show is the surge in interest in unlicensed spectrum, both for the use of mobile operators, as well as competing carriers, as well as by enterprises both for indoor and outdoor applications. For this write-up, we are focusing primarily on comments made by some of the leading operators who attended the conference.
AT&T discussed mmWave, future 3GPP releases, 5G phones, Mobile Edge Computing and indoor cellular, mid-band spectrum strategies, 5 GHz spectrum usage, Mobile Edge Computing (MEC), StandAlone (SA), among other topics. AT&T views mmWave as just a tool in the toolkit, so to speak, and not the only spectrum that is useful in 5G. It considers mmWave to be most helpful in urban and potentially indoor settings. Representatives said that future 5G-oriented Releases 16 & 17 are expected to be software upgrades to existing hardware and won't require new equipment to incorporate these new capabilities which will include network slicing. AT&T is making a big deal about its Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) initiative. At the conference, it emphasized MEC as having two main parts: a) expansion to about 100 edge sites (mostly Central Offices) from about 20 central locations in the LTE era and initially supporting packet core, and b) Microsoft Azure services managed end-to-end by AT&t. The company also emphasized that it plans to pursue some indoor cellular opportunities, some that currently leverage 5 GHz using LAA technology, some that will leverage CBRS and some that will leverage mmWave. We get the impression from AT&T that it is open in how it pursues future mid-band spectrum strategies. Its strategy could change based on: a) the timing of the CBRS PAL licenses (currently slated for June 25, 2020), b) the potential for C-Band private auctions (potentially in the mid 2020 timeframe), c) the potential for some or all of the 6 GHz spectrum availability (where Wi-Fi 6 would co-occupy), as well as other factors. We learned that, at least in certain regions, the company is making very ample use of 5 GHz spectrum using LAA techniques. AT&T seeing its picocells (small cells) get around 100 Mbps from LAA out of a total 130 Mbps inclusive of around three other licensed spectrums. We were surprised the company makes such ample use of unlicensed spectrum where Wi-Fi currently exists. The 5 GHz experience of AT&T leads us to think that 6 GHz, which promises to offer far more spectrum that the 5 GHz swath presently available, could be very beneficial to mobile operators and their consumers, as well as the Wi-Fi industry, and its consumers. AT&T expects that by this time next year, it will be "pushing" 5G to all its customers, part as a result of handsets adopting 5G capabilities, part the result of its network seeing nationwide coverage. Of the services that AT&T operates, it is installing mainly Packet Core in its MEC systems. AT&T is also planning to run Microsoft Azure services in its MEC locations. It expects that both Packet Core and Azure will see a 10-20 ms latency reduction by being located in MEC locations. AT&T says that StandAlone (SA) is "just new software," and downplayed the significance of the upgrade from EPC/NonStandAlone (NSA) to SA.
Sprint "is all-in on 2.5 GHz mid-band deployments for 5G services." Given the company's potential merger with T-Mobile USA, we view its network-build-out choices as being somewhat limited. It has limited options because it increases its near-term value to its acquirer, T-Mobile, if it deploys 5G in 2.5 GHz. Likewise, it is doesn't implement in mmWave, this reduces overlap with T-Mobile, who is deploying there. The company reiterated that it had launched 5G in 9 markets. It is seeing its peak speeds on 5G (aided by the fact that it has simultaneously upgraded hardware to Massive MIMO) be about 3-5 times that of its 8T8R LTE systems. It currently covers 11M POPs and 2,100 square miles with 5G. Sprint also shared that it sees RFPs from customers to replace Wi-Fi with 5G, though it didn't share more about this topic. The company's experience is that in upgrading its macro base stations to Massive MIMO 64T64R capabilities, it is getting 3-4x faster throughput than its 8T8R systems, though in the field these measurements vary widely. Additionally, Sprint said that its Massive MIMO systems relative to earlier systems show "generally the same coverage," with 1-2 dB better sometimes. Sprint is exploring ORAN and vRAN but "not adopting near term."
Shaw (Canada) presented its mobile LTE and 5G efforts and plans. Shaws plans are interesting because the company has significant cable services deployed in Canada. The company said nearly all the mobile technology it has installed in the past three years are "5G-ready." It will use 5G first in 600 MHz, then in mid-band (probably in 3.5 GHz) and the last in mmWave. Shaw expects that low-band 5G handsets will be available in 2020, and, similar to what AT&T said, it expects that is when 5G mobile will start in earnest in Canada. Shaw admitted that it is behind where the US operators are in deploying 5G, but offered no apologies, as it felt it is where it needs to be from a competitive standpoint in Canada. Almost laughing, Shaw explained that it would never consider deploying mmWave along highways, and that only high-density locations would get mmWave coverage. Shaw's view that mmWave is for high-density locations was shared universally by other operators in attendance, including AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile US.
T-Mobile US spokespersons explained that mmWave has seen some challenges, relative to initial expectations and that while it does get mmWave to operate beyond near-line-of-sight, the view of T-Mobile is that mmWave is "just part of 5G." T-Mobile expects 3GPP Release 16 to be completed in 2020, but that it will be 2021 before it deploys Release 16, which won't require "a massive hardware refresh" and which will incorporate industrial and connected vehicles features. T-Mobile views 5G as being appropriate for indoor installations because while mmWave has challenges penetrating glass and concrete, but when 5G operates in low and mid-band spectrums, the "issue goes away." By 2020, T-Mobile expects StandAlone packet core to be ready, but since its current EPC/NonStandAlone (NSA) systems are already virtualized, the upgrade to SA is "not a forklift" upgrade. T-Mobile says virtual RAN (vRAN) "will take time," and that it will "need accelerators," which we take to mean FPGA-based Network Interface Cards (NICs) or the like to allow servers to operate faster than just x86 processors will allow.
We attended the CBRS Alliance event in Washington DC today, and by our rough estimate, about 350-400 people were in attendance representing groups such as regulators, legislators, lawyers, technology vendors, property owners, service providers, investors, media and analysts. We were impressed with the widespread interest in the new shared spectrum technology and services running in the 3.5 GHz band that is now called “OnGo.” We have researched CBRS for many years and found several acronyms and CBRS-specific terminology to be blossoming. We found several themes at the CBRS Alliance event and a follow-on event at Federated Wireless, a SAS service provider, of special note: a) the OnGo experience will serve as a mold for regulators, operators and other interested parties not just in the US, but also the rest of the world, b) Tier 1 operators and WISPs appear focused on Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) deployments in CBRS spectrum, at least initially, c) many presenters focused on the “OnGo backhaul to gateways” use-case, at least as an initial opportunity, d) interested parties have a concern that PAL licenses may become very expensive when the auctions occur, and e) there were a very large number of devices supporting OnGo at this event.
Acronym soup. The CBRS Alliance did its best to explain the various acronyms and how the various players work together. It would take at least six pages to cover just the top-level details. The idea here is that the 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz range was previously used exclusively by the US Department of Defense and is now going to be shared using a three-tier process, where the military (the incumbent) will have use of it when it needs, then private license holders will get next dibs (PAL), followed by general users (GAA). Starting today, GAA users will begin use of the spectrum in the Initial Commercial Deployment (ICD) that was announced today, starting at 9 AM Eastern. A group of service providers called Spectrum Access System (SAS) providers have been authorized to install radios on the US coastline that sense when the military is using the spectrum and send channel-use information to equipment that is operating in the CBRS spectrum. These SAS providers will, therefore, coordinate the frequencies between incumbent, PAL, and GAA users.
Our view on why OnGo and “Shared spectrum” matters. We expect that by sharing spectrum amongst various parties, more traffic can move across a smaller range of frequency than by using the more common method of auctioning off frequency bands to be used exclusively by one entity. We estimate that shared frequency will carry ten-times more traffic than frequency bands licensed for the exclusive use of single entities. Thus, it is for the greater good that this OnGo / CBRS experience go the distance and allow a public demonstration of whether multi-tiered shared spectrum can succeed or not. Already, we have the experience of shared spectrum in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands used by WiFi – there is no doubt this has been successful; in fact, most public estimates show about 80% of smartphone traffic is carried by WiFi rather than cellular systems, all of which as of yesterday was carried on licensed spectrum. At the CBRS Alliance event, guest speaker, US FCC Commissioner Michael P. O’Reilly said that based on the success of OnGo, he expects similar models could be applied to additional spectrum (and he implied this might the sequential order of launch): C-band (3.7-4.2 GHz), 3.45-3.55 GHz, 3.1-3.45 GHz and 7 GHz (which we understand is meant to be the same thing as what is being discussed at 6 GHz by the WiFi community).
FWA opportunity is front and center. Charter and AT&T focused their comments on their plans to deploy fixed broadband systems. AT&T shared some impressive statistics about the performance of recent trials using Massive MIMO cell sites using distributed RAN over CBRS spectrum, which is connected to indoor baseband over fiber optics to the radio sites and then connects wirelessly to customer premises equipment mounted at the roofline: it said it achieved 140x12 Mbps at slightly over one mile over line of sight using 20 Mhz channels. Charter discussed it had deployed its first commercial FWA in Davidson City, NC to rural locations. It also discussed how it uses dual SIM systems to allow customer coverage to Verizon’s cellular network. Charter also discussed private LTE, neutral host, and Industrial IoT use cases. The Wireless Internet Service Provider’s Association (WISPA) President spoke about its members’ enthusiasm for OnGo and explained that 100’s of WISPs used the 3.65 GHz spectrum and expects more will use the 3.5 GHz / CBRS spectrum. Currently, WISPA says WISPS in the US have 6 million customers.
OnGo as a backhaul. We detected a theme that seems durable: CBRS spectrum can be used by enterprises with far-flung operations to save costs by reducing the installation of wired / optical cables and associated infrastructure. There was an impressive list of vendors who had equipment at the show, a number of which were gateway devices that made connections between CBRS and other well-known protocols such as Ethernet and WiFi, to name a couple. While OnGo/CBRS support is not as widespread on devices today, IoT devices supporting other wired and wireless systems certainly are, the list of which includes WiFi, Zigbee, Bluetooth, Ethernet and more. We were taken by how compelling some presenters made a case for using CBRS simply assuming a reduction in new cabling to enable new systems such as kiosks, surveillance, digital signage, farming, and so on. Many of these examples would increase the deployment of existing protocols like WiFi, Zigbee, Bluetooth, and Ethernet, instead of reducing their demand. The idea that OnGo/CBRS competes with existing systems may be incorrect.
PAL auctions. Commissioner O’Reilly said PAL auctions are scheduled for June 25, 2020. In our formal and informal interviews, we understand there is a growing concern that CBRS spectrum auctions could be aggressively pursued not only by existing Tier 1 mobile operators but also by other players, not least of which could include MSOs and maybe even “Big Tech” companies. Since the 3.5 GHz spectrum is where many countries besides the US have begun deploying 5G services, making equipment in these frequency bands commonplace, there is ample reason to want to use this spectrum in the US. Bidders may raise the price high enough that enterprises will choose not to compete, and won’t view the CBRS spectrum as attractive as they had hoped. In this case, PAL would look quite a bit more like a typical licensed spectrum, similar to other auctions.
OnGo devices abound. At the show, the following vendors had devices on show (see pictures): Sercomm, MultiTech, Sierra WIreless, Zyxel, Encore, Cradlepoint, AMIT Wireless, Commscope / Ruckus, Accelleran, Bai Cells, Cambium, Samsung, Google, LG Electronics, Sequans, Telit, JMA Wireless, Motorola Solutions, Cisco, BEC Technologies, Ericsson, ip access, BLINQ, Comba Telecom, and Westell.
Huawei hosted 700 analysts and media participants in Shenzhen China last week to attend its annual analyst summit, nick-named HAS2019. The company's high-level message was simple - the company is an innovator and is moving down the stack into semiconductors and is partnering with and funding university projects to develop basic research. This year’s message was different from than the prior-year meeting, but several transformative events have occurred between this meeting and the prior year's, most notably the 2Q18 shipment ban on ZTE, the US / China trade dispute and US efforts to thwart Huawei’s participation in the 5G infrastructure of its allies. Interestingly, during HAS2019, the Apple and Qualcomm announced their chip-supply and patent settlement, Samsung announced its foldable phone (which has been met with criticism), and Ericsson & Swisscom announced that the operator went live with its 5G network. All three of non-Huawei events highlighted the importance of Huawei’s chips and innovation announcements.
The company made announcements in its main keynote presentations on day one about seven different chip projects delivered recently or planned shortly. Chip-level is unusual for what are typically high-level presentations from a keynote-level presentation. These chips (seen in accompanying pictures) are:
The company shared more details about other chips in breakout sessions on the second and third days of the conference, as well. The point we are making, though, is that upper-level management provided significant detail about semiconductor developments at Huawei. Another relevant semiconductor-related point to make is that the company is de-emphasizing its reliance on Intel-based architecture and instead is focusing on devices such as ARM-based processors, as well as GPU, FPGA and NPU semiconductors.
We would be remiss if we did not mention some of the system-level announcements and observations related to 5G that were made at the HAS2019 conference, which include:
even more follow on
Mid-band spectrum shortages in the US was the main thrust of the 5G Americas sponsors. The idea is that the rest of the world has lots of mid-band spectrum available and service providers in countries that could be considered economic leaders (Japan, Korea, China, Western European countries) have plenty of available mid-band spectrum that is ideal for 5G, while the US does not. This group at 5G Americas, which includes service providers, vendors and standards bodies, is saying that US leadership in cellular infrastructure and the entire app economy that relies upon it may be at risk as 5G get deployed.
Other topics discussed: AT&T is currently out for bid on its 5GC infrastructure, and this caused some interesting posturing by the vendor attendees (like Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco, Mavenir) at this conference, with each trying to identifying their strengths. It seems the consensus is that all mobile operators in the US market are using Option 3X, an EPC anchoring system. And, the consensus seems to be that US operators will need to move to 5GC once most traffic is coming over 5G Radio (“New Radio”). Vendor selection appears an open field, once again, as 5GC has 13 different microservices, each which could theoretically be parsed out to different vendors. Operators are saying, though, that while this multi-vendor selection may lead to savings on purchasing, it will increase integration spending, so these two have to be balanced out.
Mobile Edge Computing: The consensus is that a 50 mile radius (or others are saying 100 km) is considered the ‘edge,’ or the ‘low latency’ zone. We expect, however, that the data forwarding plane (‘user plane’) will be distributed to, say, 100 locations within a territory like the US market, while the control plane will be much more centralized (perhaps as centralized as it is currently, where it might be considered to be like 1/4th the number of locations).
CBRS. The consensus is that testing will be done by mid November 2018 and Initial Commercial Deployment by 1Q19, potentially spilling into 2Q19. PAL auctions are expected by attendees to be a 2019 event, with 2020 traffic running on PAL spectrum. Commscope represented the views from a SAS standpoint for this discussion.There were discussions about the C-Band (6 Ghz) potentially using the same type of Automatic Frequency Coordination system, but the consensus is that it is too early to declare that the path forward.
We attended Mobile World Congress Americas (MWCa) in Los Angeles, CA this week, as well as the AT&T Spark event in San Francisco. Since 5G is launching first the US, these two events became the public events where significant 5G-related announcements happened.
Additionally, discussions about spectrum in the US market were very active discussions. Some points we picked up on:
Yesterday, Ericsson and Juniper announced plans to partner to tackle 5G transport challenges together. Additionally, Ericsson announced a partnership with optical transport company, ECI. The companies said that Ericsson's Router 6000 product family will focus on fronthaul and backhaul and edge compute and will be complemented by Juniper MX, PTX and SRX Series portfolios providing edge, core and security capabilities. Additionally, in today's presentation to analysts, Ericsson showed that the overall transport capability from Ericsson will also include Optical Transport from both ECI Telecom and Ciena. The Ericsson Network Manager will be capable of managing not only Ericsson products, but also the three families of products from Juniper.
ECI will be used for Metro, and will be completely integrated with the Ericsson OSS platform. The company conceded that it is de-emphasizing its in-house metro optical product line and focusing on ECI. Ciena will be used for long-haul transport predominantly, mainly the Ciena 6500 product. Ericsson concedes that both ECI and Ciena products can move to other domains.
To enable automation for 5G, Ericsson can only guarantee that networks working with Ericsson and its partners can successfully be automated. This automation / partnership topic illustrates just how complex it will be to make 5G networks work properly.
Recall that Ericsson and Juniper had a close partnership that goes back many years. In fact, the Juniper router predecessor to the MX was used as the underlying hardware for Ericsson's very important GGSN/SGSN and later EPC capabilities. Ericsson eventually replaced the Juniper product for EPC with its own Router 6000. Subsequently, Ericsson announced a partnership with Cisco, which was more general in nature. That relationship did not result in much tangible progress, from what we have learned; and the relationship was done under previous management teams for both Cisco and Ericsson. Ericsson explained today in its analyst briefing that Cisco and Ericsson compete in several areas. So, this new Juniper relationship is important in that it re-kindles an old relationship and plays to both companies' strengths.
Nokia was bullish on its technology developments and cautious on telco capex. CEO Rajeev Suri described the telecom market as having tough market conditions and expects telco equipment market revenues down in 2018. He said the Swedish competitor pricing aggressively and that it will be difficult to keep share in China with 5G ramp. He said Nokia is executing on plan to grow non telco verticals – and it will take 3+ years before it is sizable enough to potentially offset telco challenges. He emphasized a key strength is its focus on cost reductions. He highlighted success in cable MSO market and that its FP4-based router will ship in a few days. Suri thinks 5G could roll out in China first, maybe tied with US. Nokia CEO's comments were quite similar about 5G rollout timing expectations compared to comments made at Huawei’s recent conference (2019 initial deployments; chipsets 2019; broadening deployments in 2020).
Some more details from Rajeev Suri's presentation:
Ericsson. We were surprised that the CEO of Nokia took the opportunity to take some digs at Ericsson. He said that Ericsson is pricing aggressively; it also shared some quantitative statistics about competitive take-outs of Ericsson installed base. He argued that it has broadest portfolio in industry (fixed, software are examples).
China. Two interesting comments about China – a) will be difficult to maintain share in China as 5G rolls out, b) China might be first to deploy 5G.
Emphasized that Amazon Web Services is making a presentation at this conference. Said its new FP4-based routers are more efficient than any competitor and will be so for at least the next year.
Other presenters made comments about 5G mainly. Here are some interesting comments:
Artificial Intelligence. The company has a lot of network automation technology that is it working on but would not share details about this technology. We guess Nokia is more open with its customers and that it'll make announcements at MWC '18 in Barcelona.
5G Radio. Beamforming is a key technology that will be highlighted in 5G. Also, the company's separation of Stage 1 and Stage 2 MIMO processing makes the bandwidth needs from baseband to array be much less than competitors. Additionally, the company explains that its expected systems will have dramatically higher efficiency than competitors - again, the company kept its secrets here under wraps. Late 2018 will see first 5G deployments, going into 2019.
IP/Optical. Basil Alwan, President IP/Optical division said the first FP4-based product went to production end of the last week. Major customers will take shipment before the end of this quarter. The company will ship its 57 Terabit router during 1Q18. SD-WAN will replace MPLS VPNs over time, perhaps at a rapid pace.
Service Provider presentations:
Amazon Web Services IoT. Satyam Yadav, GM of AWS IoT made a presentation at this meeting. The presentation focused on how Amazon's IoT software and its services would be used in a partnership with Nokia to deliver Amazon IoT services.
Sprint. Ron Marquardt, CTO. He is not sure how much customers might pay for lower-latency connections available from 5G. Now that the uncertainty of the T-Mobile US acquisition is beyond us, Sprint says it is rapidly focusing on spending to upgrade its network. Sprint also said it plans to deal with fewer vendors in the future.
Elisa. The Finnish operator presented data about its extraordinary data traffic growth and its per-subscriber data usage being far above competitors as well as other service providers in the world.
Ericsson and Cisco representatives provided an upbeat presentation about the corporate partnership, offered some customer success metrics and discussed some new initiatives. The teams held back from providing concrete measures of progress such as revenues. Our judgement is that since each is continuing to make joint offerings, the relationship is moving ahead.
Customer engagement progress was characterized at 100+ deals and 300+ engagements.
It is interesting to figure out what each of the two parties deliver to customers. The way the two companies characterize what each is good at and what each delivers to customers is quite similar to the way it was characterized at the previous year's MWC 2016 presentation - with one possible exception: Each of the spokespersons said that customers are using the Ericsson wireless packet core (Cisco also sells wireless packet core).
Roles and Responsibilities. Generally, the teams still see the roles and responsibilities split up as follows:
Given how strategic the NFV landscape is for the future of the telecom industry, we were interested in each company's participation in NFV Orchestration. The partners say the way they split up the orchestration between each other would typically be as follows: Cisco's NSO is used typically in managing the network and resources (Cisco claims it wins big here). Ericsson's transport-oriented NFV is typically used. And then Ericsson's orchestration system manages both Cisco's and Ericsson's lower level management systems.
Some wins discussed:
As we explained earlier, the partners discussed new three initiatives discussed for the future:
At the Ericsson Media and Analyst Briefing today, Ericsson's new CEO Borje Ekholm made his first MWC presentation, and then ceded the stage to well-known T-Mobile USA (TMUS) Chief Technology Officer, Neville Ray. We learned several things that were interesting: T-Mobile's plans for 5G rollout and 2G/3G shutdown, and Ericsson's high-level view on its strengths as 5G rolls out.
Neville Ray's comments conveyed a pragmatic and agile service provider's views: